Object Title

Mauser Gewehr 98 rifle and bayonet

Mauser Gewehr 98 rifle and bayonet


The German tradition of bolt-action rifles was second only to that of the French. Prussia and France had clashed in 1870, and the cultural memory of that war was strong throughout the First World War. German fear of civilian insurgency was the cause of the brutality in Belgium and France, and France for her part sought revenge for her defeat. This bitter rivalry was reflected in a small arms race between the two nations. The Prussian army adopted the original single-shot bolt-action Mauser immediately after the Franco-Prussian War, and this was developed by the Mauser brothers Peter Paul and Wilhelm into what became a world standard rifle, rather like the Kalashnikov today. The ultimate variant was the Gewehr 98, the culmination of commercially successful series of rifles that began with the Model 93 sold to Spain in 1893. The rifle's ammunition was designed for the Gewehr 88, an otherwise unsuccessful German military rifle not part of the Mauser family.

Germany was first to introduce the pointed 'spitzer' (spire-shaped) or 'S' bullet. Unlike the flat-based British .303, this was a truly modern design with an aerodynamically shaped 'boat' tail. The 7.92mm round was also powerful enough to project the special armour-piercing 'K' bullet through the side of the early British tanks. A range of bayonets were issued for the G98, the most common being the S84/98 with 25.3 cm (10") blade. Yet the most famous today is the 'saw-back' variant of the S98/05 sword bayonet. This was demonised in British propaganda as the 'butcher blade', implied to have been designed to cause needlessly horrific wounds. In fact, bayonet blades with serrated backs had been commonly used for more than a century by both Britain and Germany. They were actually intended for issue to pioneer and engineer troops who might have a need to cut wood.

Use and effect

The robust, reliable, powerful and accurate Mauser had excelled against the British in the hands of Boer guerrillas, but did not provide an edge in 1914. Though very large and well-equipped, the German army lacked experience of modern warfare. The much smaller British Expeditionary Force had recent combat experience in South Africa and the North West Frontier (present-day Afghanistan). As a result, whilst it forced the BEF into fighting retreat, it suffered disproportionately heavy casualties against the less accurate Lee-Enfield rifle in these early battles. Any advantage in terms of rifle technology, therefore, was with the ten-round magazine capacity and rapid action of the SMLE. As for the 'butcher blade', in practice this would not have caused any more severe a wound than the smooth S98/05. Both were broad cutting blades that created correspondingly wide wound channels. This assumes that the blade would reliably penetrate the layers of cloth and leather that an enemy soldier would be wearing, as a great deal more force would be required to push the blade home than a spike blade like that of the French Lebel.


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Mauser Gewehr 98 rifle being loaded and fired into ballistic soap target.


Action / Operating system Bolt
Barrel length 74 cm (29.1 in)
Calibre / Bore 7.92x57mm (.31 in)
Capacity (rounds) 5
Country of manufacture Germany
Date entered service 1898
Effective range 550 m (600 yd)
Feed Internal magazine
Manufacturer Amberg arsenal
Manufacturer Danzig arsenal
Manufacturer Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken
Manufacturer Erfurt arsenal
Manufacturer Haenel Sauer & Sohn
Manufacturer Leipzig arsenal
Manufacturer Mauser
Manufacturer Simson
Manufacturer Spandau arsenal
Manufacturer V. Chr. Schilling Co.
Manufacturer Waffenwerke Oberspree
Muzzle velocity 878 m/s (2881 fps)
Other operators Ottoman Empire
Overall length 1.25 m (49.2 in)
Primary operator Germany
Rate of fire (rounds per minute) about 15
Weight 4.09 kg (9 lb)


Jonathan Ferguson